Even as digital disrupts how companies communicate and sell, it has also transformed how consumers trust, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust? found.

Released this week, the study ran across eight markets globally, involved more than 25,000 respondents and touched on the evolution of trust from the perspective of digital.

Digital Disrupts Trust

When asked what elements build trust with brands, the top reasons cited by consumers weigh heavily on digital. The top three responses (“data privacy”, “fake news and false information”, and “the pace of innovation”) are intrinsically digital.

For many companies, the types of challenges raised by trust in the era of digital are entirely new. Before big data, for example marketers not need to think so carefully about data policies and privacy. Now data privacy can make or break to a customers’ trust.

Creating a Digital Marketing Trust Machine

As much as badly executed Digital Marketing undermines trust, there are also now new ways for companies to enhance their relationships with consumers directly.

Optimize Trusted Platforms

To solidify trust, brands need to invest in essential and trusted platforms. According to the study, search engines rank as the single most trusted online source for consumers.

Savvy digital marketers know that consumers trust search engines as neutral algorithm-based search systems. The factors that determine a site for relevance beyond the query include usability of pages, the number of links back to a page, user location and other settings. As organic search accounts for a considerable portion of traffic for most websites, companies need clear investment in SEO.

Engage Trusted Influencers

Even as internet users increasingly avoid advertising through ad blocking technology, the general population looks increasingly towards social media influencers. For 63 percent of respondents (between the ages of 18 and 34) trust what influencers say about a brand much more than what the brand says about itself. In addition, 58 percent said they bought a new product in the last six months because of an influencer.

The Ongoing Evolution of Trust

Ever since the first raspy whine of dial-up Internet connections brought AOL and Myspace, digital has pushed the boundaries of trust. Today’s common habits, such as publishing family pictures online or giving our email to brands, were once considered novel.

That progression continues and in the last few years, consumer comfort has increased across a range of newer digital marketing tactics. Marketers increasingly leverage our online behavior to optimize our experience. While some aspects of this practice still meet resistance, the study showed that consumers continue to ease their concerns and embrace digital convenience.

One striking shift was a 13-percentage point increase in the number of people favorable to brands “sending you coupons or suggesting new items based on products that you have bought, considered buying, or rented from them in the past.” Out of nine tactics that were shown to respondent, eight had a rise in favorability.

The evolution of this relationship and trust show that consumers are adjusting to a new reality. To remain relevant, companies must keep pace.

Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust?

Thomas Crampton is Global Chair, Digital.